The lecture traced the seeds of the early civil rights movement through US District Court rulings that paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education.
The Boston University School of Law community gathered in late February to welcome the Honorable Richard M. Gergel, of the US District Court for the District of South Carolina, to deliver the 2019 Max M. Shapiro Lecture.
Judge Gergel, who presided over the trial of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine African American congregants at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, is the author of Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring.
In his book, Gergel recounts another incident of racial violence: the 1946 beating of Sgt. Isaac Woodard by a South Carolina police chief. Sgt. Woodard, a World War II veteran, was left blinded while the police chief was acquitted by an all-white jury. The case awoke Judge J. Waties Waring, who served on the same court as Gergel, to the failures of the judicial system. He became an outspoken critic of white supremacy and segregation, and worked to dismantle Jim Crow laws. The attack also inspired President Harry Truman to launch a presidential committee on civil rights.
Judge Gergel’s lecture traced the seeds of the early civil rights movement through Waring’s rulings in cases like Briggs v. Elliott, in which his dissent to the 2–1 decision upholding segregation in South Carolina schools paved the way for the NAACP to argue against the “separate but equal” doctrine in Brown v. Board of Education.
Following his talk, Dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig and Professors Jack Beermann, Kristin Collins, and Portia Pedro joined him for a discussion of the influence of Judge Waring’s judicial decisions on South Carolina and the nation.
The Max M. Shapiro Lecture, BU Law’s principle endowed lectureship, serves as a tribute to the memory of Max Shapiro (’33), a lawyer who devoted his career to examining the place of legal ethics in trial advocacy.